Episode 82: The Simple Elegance of Shibumi: Featured Interview with Matthew May - My Quest for the Best

Episode 82: The Simple Elegance of Shibumi: Featured Interview with Matthew May

Founder, Shibumi Creative Works; Innovation Consultant; Speaker; Bestselling Author

Matthew May talks to Bill Ringle on My Quest for the Best about creative marketing and the importance of embracing Shibumi in your business.

Listen to this interview to learn:

  • How Matt’s career took off with the publication of his book.
  • How the refinement of a loom design factors into Toyota’s heritage and culture.
  • What shibumi means for business leaders.
  • How to combat crippling complexity in organizations.

Interview Insights

Click to Read the Show Notes

1:12 How Matthew got started in his career as a speaker, author, and coach.

1:27 May tells about how a three day coaching gig with Toyota turned into an 8 year stint, and launched his coaching career and to the publication his first book, The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation

3:18 “My entire world was sort of trying to help [Toyota] create and launch Toyota University, and I found myself up against a brick wall there halfway through my time.”

3:52 [On the story of Sakichi Toyoda] – “He spent the entirety of his adult career developing not an automobile, but an automatic loom for spinning and weaving. His entire quest was to have a loom that would stop working whenever a single thread broke.”

4:57 “It’s not about doing, it’s about stop doing.”

5:28 [On Shibumi] – “It’s this sort of effortless elegance, this elegant simplicity,– the ability to achieve the maximum effect with the minimum means.”

6:08 “As I look around me I see a crippling complexity, excessive waste, whether it’s in a product or whether it’s in government, whether it’s in policy, no matter what it is, there just seems to be too much of everything.”

6:39 “I approach companies and teams about finding elegant solutions, generally by looking at a problem and looking at it from a consumer’s point of view or a user’s point of view.”

8:05 “About 10 years ago Toyota failed miserably trying to market the Toyota brand to new millennials…it was a car that Mom and Dad drove.”

8:38 “They realized they needed a new product, a new brand to appeal to this upcoming generation…but they quickly learned that they didn’t understand that generation.”

9:29 How Toyota’s “field agents” were able to infiltrate the younger customer base and create the XB, a customizable model that couldn’t stay in dealer lots.

10:11 “The kids picked it up, spent another 15 grand outfitting it…It was nothing about the car, it was everything to do with what you could do to the car.”

12:05 [On training salespeople on selling this new kind of car] – “There was a number of dimensions that came to light in terms of how to talk to this new population. Gen Y’ers, new Millennials do not like advertising.”

14:45 “We are not used to doing what designers do, which is to get out of our cubicles and offices and walk a mile in the shoes of our customer.”

15:53 “I think a lot of times organizations aren’t exactly sure how to pull creativity and innovation from their employee base.”

16:22 Why suggestion boxes are really complaint boxes.

17:02 “People don’t want to change unless it’s their idea.”

17:20 “When the direction of flow of information and attention is reversed, where someone is coming to you saying ‘I don’t know how to do this. I want to change certain things, how do I do it?”

18:12 How change begins with a pocket of interest.

18:26 [On creating a space for shared ownership] – “It’s a pull, rather than a push. I think when you’re trying to push something through an organization…even though they might not say it, if it’s your idea, then it will always be your idea. The trick is to A) find folks who are interested in the first place or B) if they’re not, and a higher level executive is telling a middle level manager that they need to do this, the trick is to make it their idea.”

20:47 Where May gets his regular inspiration for writing his columns, and how he is able to curate those ideas for a broader audience.

22:30 [On the significance of curation] – “In the name of excess, we’re overwhelmed by knowledge. One way that I can add value to the world and this business conversation is to help others in a radar screen or filter kind of fashion, looking for things.”

23:58 “The new exciting world of social media is allowing people to go beyond the good old job description and be able to add insight and value in new and exciting ways.”

25:11 “People are starting to work more like artists and scientists did and do. They’re trying to focus on a question that’s important to them in the confines of their work, use the resource constraints that are being imposed on them, because we all are facing them right now, and use them as a creative challenge.”

26:20 “I think people are more resourceful, more ingenious, and ready to ply their ingenuity.”

Expert Bio

Matthew E. May is an internationally recognized author, speaker and coach on creativity, innovation and design strategy. In 2011, he launched Shibumi Creative Works, an innovation consultancy dedicated to improving human creative capital in business, work and life.

A popular speaker and confidential adviser, Matt lectures each year to corporations, governments, and universities around the world, as well as facilitates creative teams and coaches senior leaders in companies of all sizes. He spent nearly a decade as a close adviser to Toyota and is a master kaizen coach. His articles have appeared in national publications such as USAToday, Design Mind, and MIT/Sloan Management Review. He has been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker , and on National Public Radio.

Matt is the author of three bestselling, award-winning books: The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change; In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing, named to the BusinessWeek 2009 Best Business Books list in the Design/Innovation category; and The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation, which won the Shingo Research Prize for Excellence and was selected as one of 800CEORead’s “Best Business Books of 2006.”

For more information, visit Matt’s website.

Contact Info for Matthew E. May

Business Phone: 805-230-2908

Web address: MatthewEMay.com

Travels From: Los Angeles, CA

Follow Matthew: Twitter

Books by Matthew E. May

Resources Mentioned 

Seth Godin

Chris Brogan

Guy Kawasaki

Dan Pink

Bill Taylor

Helen Walters

Richard Florida – the Rise of the Creative Class